Roberto Gerhard was born in 1896 in Valls, Catalonia as the son of a Swiss father and an Alsatian mother, and received his education in nearby Barcelona. He received piano instruction from Enrique Granados and also studied with the composer and ethnomusicologist Felipe Pedrell, who awakened his interest in Catalan folk music. In 1924, by which time he had already published several works in Spain and a leading Parisian publisher had accepted his Piano Trio, Roberto Gerhard became the first (and only) Spanish pupil of Arnold Schönberg. He studied with him for four years, then returning to Barcelona where he committed himself fully to the New Music.
Gerhard, who was known as a supporter of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, left Spain before Barcelona fell into the hands of the Nationalists. After a brief sojourn in Paris, he settled in Cambridge with a research stipend. Gerhard’s production during the 1940s was characterised by explicit treatment of Spanish, and especially Catalan, culture. The BBC broadcast of the opera La Dueña and the staging of the ballet Don Quixote at Covent Garden in 1950 gained the composer growing recognition in Great Britain.
After his death in 1970 in Cambridge, his music at first went into an eclipse. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, however, a series of new recordings and publications appeared, marking a renewal of interest in Roberto Gerhard’s music – intensified in Spain as well, where his music had been officially ignored during the Franco regime.